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How to Effectively Recycle Poly Mailers

Amy Lynn Voinier Mailing Bags 3 min read 7/11/2024
How to Effectively Recycle Poly Mailers

Poly mailers are everywhere. They are those tough plastic envelopes we use to ship clothes, books, and many other items. But what happens to them after we are done? 

Throwing them away is not the best idea because plastic takes hundreds of years to break down. This is why recycling poly mailers is so important. 

You’ll know how to recycle poly mailers, why it matters, and other smart ways to handle them.

What Poly Mailers Are

Poly mailers are lightweight, waterproof plastic bags often used for shipping. They are usually made from polyethylene, a type of plastic. There are different kinds of poly mailers: some have bubble padding inside, while others are just plain plastic. People love using poly mailers because they are durable and protect items from water and dirt.

However, the downside is that they contribute to plastic pollution if not disposed of properly.

Environmental Impact

Poly mailers might be handy, but they are not so great for the planet. Every year, millions of these mailers end up in landfills. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States generated about 35.7 million tons of plastic waste in 2018, and only 8.7% of this was recycled. This means a vast majority of plastic, including poly mailers, contributes to pollution.

Plastic waste poses significant risks to wildlife and ecosystems. For example, it’s estimated that plastic debris causes the deaths of over 100,000 marine mammals and one million seabirds each year. When plastic waste enters the ocean, it can break down into tiny particles called microplastics, which are ingested by marine life, entering the food chain and potentially affecting human health as well.

Recycling helps reduce this problem. By recycling poly mailers, we can lower the amount of plastic waste and lessen our impact on the earth. The production of plastic also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. In 2019, plastic production and incineration added over 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, equivalent to the emissions from 189 coal-fired power plants. Reducing and recycling plastic can help mitigate these emissions.

Steps to Effectively Recycle Poly Mailers

#1 Preparing Poly Mailers for Recycling

  1. Remove Labels and Adhesive Strips:
    • Carefully peel off any shipping labels and adhesive strips. These can interfere with the recycling process because they often contain different types of plastic or sticky substances that contaminate the recycling stream.
    • Use a pair of scissors to cut away stubborn labels or adhesive strips if necessary.
  2. Clean and Dry:
    • Ensure the poly mailers are free from dirt, food residues, or any other contaminants. A quick rinse with water can help if they are dirty.
    • After cleaning, make sure the poly mailers are completely dry. Wet or damp plastics can cause problems during the recycling process.

#2 Finding Local Recycling Programs

  • Municipal Recycling Programs:
    • Check your city or town’s recycling guidelines to see if they accept poly mailers. You can usually find this information on their official website or by calling their waste management department.
    • Some municipalities accept plastic bags and poly mailers along with other recyclables, but it’s essential to verify because not all do.
  • Specialized Recycling Centers:
    • Locate specialized recycling centers that accept plastic films and poly mailers. Websites like provide directories of recycling centers by material type.
    • Drop off your clean and dry poly mailers at these centers. Some grocery stores and retail chains also have collection bins for plastic bags and films, where poly mailers are often accepted.

#3 Using Mail-Back Programs and Recycling Services

  • Overview of Available Services:
    • Some companies offer mail-back programs specifically for recycling plastic films, including poly mailers. Examples include TerraCycle, earth911, and certain manufacturers that provide take-back programs.
  • How to Use These Services:
    • Sign up for the service on the company’s website. They will provide instructions on how to collect and ship your poly mailers.
    • Collect your used poly mailers in a box or bag. Make sure they are clean and dry before packing them.
    • Follow the company’s shipping instructions. This might involve printing a pre-paid shipping label and dropping off the package at a designated location or arranging for a pick-up.

Challenges in Recycling

Recycling poly mailers isn’t always easy. Here are some common challenges:

  • Different Types of Plastics:
    • Poly mailers are made from polyethylene, but some have bubble wrap or different plastics.
    • Mixing plastics can cause issues in recycling because each type needs specific processing.
  • Contamination:
    • Poly mailers often have adhesive strips, labels, and tape residues.
    • These contaminants can lower the quality of recycled materials and make the process more costly.
  • Thin Plastic:
    • The thin, flexible material can get tangled in recycling machinery.
    • Many curbside recycling programs do not accept thin plastics like poly mailers.
  • Lack of Awareness and Education:
    • Many people don’t know that poly mailers can be recycled.
    • Proper steps for preparing poly mailers for recycling are not widely known.
  • Limited Access to Recycling Facilities:
    • Not all communities have recycling centers that accept poly mailers.
    • Some people have to travel far to find a drop-off point for plastic films.
  • Economic Viability:
    • Collecting, cleaning, and processing poly mailers can be expensive.
    • The market value for recycled polyethylene is often lower than the cost of processing.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can all types of poly mailers be recycled?

Not all poly mailers can be recycled through regular curbside programs. It’s important to check if your local recycling center accepts poly mailers. Generally, clean and dry polyethylene poly mailers without labels and adhesives can be recycled at specialized recycling centers or through mail-back programs.

2. What should I do to prepare poly mailers for recycling?

To prepare poly mailing bags for recycling, remove any labels and adhesive strips, and ensure the mailers are clean and dry. Contaminants like food residues or other substances can interfere with the recycling process, so cleaning them is essential.

3. Where can I recycle poly mailers if my local recycling program doesn’t accept them?

If your local recycling program doesn’t accept poly mailers, look for specialized recycling centers that handle plastic films. Many grocery stores and retail chains have collection bins for plastic bags and films, where you can drop off poly mailers. Additionally, mail-back programs offered by companies like TerraCycle can be an option.

4. Are there any eco-friendly alternatives to poly mailers?

Yes, there are eco-friendly alternatives to poly mailers. You can use biodegradable or compostable mailers, which break down more easily in the environment. Some brands also offer sustainable packaging options that are better for the planet.


Recycling poly mailers is a small but significant step toward a cleaner planet. Understanding the process and taking simple actions can make a big difference in reducing plastic waste. Preparing poly mailers correctly for recycling, finding the right recycling facilities, or opting for eco-friendly alternatives—every effort counts. The choices we make today will impact the environment for future generations. 

So, next time you receive a package, will you take the step to recycle your poly mailers and contribute to a greener world?